An imam was stabbed on Sunday while he was leading early morning prayers at a mosque in Paterson, N.J., by a man who was subdued by worshipers, the authorities and a community member said.
The man, whom prosecutors identified as Serif Zorba, 32, was arrested and charged with first-degree attempted murder, officials said.
Mr. Zorba was “subdued by congregants” by the time the police arrived at the Omar Mosque after 5:30 a.m., according to a news release from the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.
Mayor Andre Sayegh of Paterson identified the imam as Sayed Elnakib. Prosecutors said that the imam, 65, sustained “nonfatal stab wounds” and was transported to St. Joseph’s University Medical Center.
The community member, Sikander Khan, said that the attack took place just after morning prayers began, when a man leaped forward and stabbed Mr. Elnakib repeatedly.
Mr. Khan, a Paterson city employee who is co-chairman of the Muslim caucus of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said that Mr. Elnakib underwent surgery and was in stable condition but that he had liver damage.
Mr. Khan said the attacker, who had been to the mosque to worship before, was unknown to other congregants and was not an “active member.”
“Nobody really knew him,” Mr. Khan said. “We don’t know what the motive behind his action is.”
“He would come in and kind of sit isolated away from everyone else and didn’t really communicate with anyone,” Mr. Khan added. “We’re extremely baffled and confused about why he would do such a thing. Our prayers are with the imam and his family and wish him quick recovery.”
Mayor Sayegh, who visited Mr. Elnakib in the hospital on Sunday, said that he was hopeful he would make a full recovery. In response to the attack, the mayor added, the city would step up its police presence at mosques. “People don’t have to be afraid to pray,” he said.
Neither he nor the prosecutors offered any details about a possible motive.
Alaa Abdelaziz, a Paterson councilman, said on Facebook that he was “deeply saddened” by the attack. “As a community, it is important that we come together to support one another and denounce all forms of hate and violence,” he said.
Mr. Zorba, who also faces weapons-related charges, will appear before a Superior Court judge in Paterson on Monday afternoon, prosecutors said. If convicted on the attempted murder charge, he faces a maximum of 20 years in New Jersey state prison.
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